Dark Sky Films // 1971 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // March 7th, 2006
It's the Dirty Dozen on wheels!
Perhaps slightly better known as Nam's Angels, The Losers is an undeniably eccentric flick from the loopy drive-in era of the early 1970s, a pure gimmick film that drops a posse of hard-ass bikers into an impossible mission in the middle of the Vietnam War with nothing but tuned-up bikes, tools, and enough firepower to turn the Ho Chi Minh Trail into a gravel farm. Sounds like highly ludicrous exploitation trash? Well it is, but it's trash of the very highest order, a consistently surprising, lightning-paced action film that aggressively twists the throttle on lowbrow, low-budget thrills.
Link (William Smith, Any Which Way You Can), Duke (Adam Roarke, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry), Limpy (Paul Koslo,Vanishing Point), Speed (Eugene Cornelius, Run, Angel, Run), and Dirty Denny (Houston Savage) are The Devil's Advocates, an outlaw biker gang hired by the US army to liberate CIA operative Chet Davis (director Jack Starrett) from a well-protected Cambodian prison camp. After engaging in some crude biker hijinks, the guys get to work converting some Yamaha bikes into two-wheeled war machines stocked with guns, grenades and armor plating. But when they bust into the enemy settlement, weapons blazing, The Devil's Advocates find that the tables have turned, and Mr. Davis isn't even interested in being rescued.
In the asphalt-ripping wake of Roger Corman's 1966 classic The Wild Angels, drive-ins across North America were suddenly inundated with rough and tough biker films bent on cashing in on the Hell's Angels' real life seedy reputation. Despite their brief success as Hollywood's ultimate anti-heroes, the fictional biker gangs never really managed to break out of the B-film ghetto, however, and aside from Dennis Hopper's surprise counter-culture hit, Easy Rider, they seemed doomed to populate increasingly sleazy trash at the end of the decade, everything from Al Adamson's overly-cynical Satan's Sadists to The Pink Angels, a swishy, decidedly over-the-top tale of a gay biker gang. Like 1971's Werewolves on Wheels, another crossbreed curiosity released by Dark Sky this month, The Losers hit theaters when the biker film was on its last gasket, attempting to transplant the tried and true biker formula into Vietnam war film territory before the whole genre went up in a puff of exhaust.
It's a tribute to everyone involved with The Losers that it works as well as it does. Shot on the cheap in the ever-popular Phillipines by accomplished schlock auteur Jack Starrett, the cast and crew not only tackle this far-fetched concept with enthusiasm, but they manage to raise it above and beyond most other run-of-the-mill B-films. Starrett touched down in almost every action-packed strain of exploitation in the 1970s, cutting his teeth on biker films and blaxploitation programmers before saddling up to his most celebrated effort, the Peter Fonda classic Race with the Devil. Like his best-known work, The Losers is chock full of well-staged action scenes, and Starrett concentrates all his skill as a director (and budget) on The Devil's Advocate's final raid into Cambodia, a thrilling sequence featuring flaming bikes, exploding lookout towers and spectacular motorcycle acrobatics. Of course, it's all as over-the-top as a particularly shlocky episode of The A-Team, but it's completely unique, and entirely compelling.
It's even more interesting that Starrett uses the unorthodox setting to explore different sides of the bikers -- these Vietnam-bound hog jockeys are really unlike those in any other biker film, and not only because they have to ride Yamaha motorcycles supplied to them by the army -- "broads' bikes," they complain. As Link, William Smith is hardworking and selfless, even dedicating himself to saving the man who put him behind bars for five years, while Adam Roarke's Duke is a brooding, thoughtful character who helps to keep the wilder bikers, Limpy and Speed, in check. Dirty Denny, as played by Houston Savage -- who died tragically in a road accident just a few months after the film hit theatres -- is the only character who really embodies the stereotypical miscreant Angel as he chugs beer, screws three Vietnamese hookers at once, brawls with the locals and the MPs, and vomits a foamy gutful of beer after getting slugged in the stomach. Denny aside, there's a surprising amount of depth to the tough biker characters in this film -- they're more than just villainous caricatures of bad behavior, you actually feel for these guys, and that's an important part of making this film work as they take on the Cambodian army in their souped-up bikes.
The only real problem with The Losers is that it doesn't really know how to build up to the money sequence, delaying the gleefully violent finale with meandering love subplots, as ex-soldier Duke finds his girl from a previous tour of duty and Limpy hooks up with a poor single mother. Nothing is really done with these story threads besides spicing the action up with a few sex scenes -- they're completely dropped once the warfare starts. Also, Stu Phillips' odd orchestral score is clearly out of place in a genre dominated by buzzsaw guitar freakouts.
Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, The Losers looks pretty good except for a couple obvious source flaws. Although Dark Sky notes that the film has been remastered from the original 35mm negatives, The Losers still appears slightly washed-out, with occasional grain and uneven skin tones. Detail is quite good though, and there are no artifacts to speak of. I wasn't very impressed with the mono soundtrack either, which is noticeably hampered by hiss and poor fidelity -- I had to turn on the subtitles to catch everything being said. We get a small handful of extras, too, as veteran actors William Smith and Paul Koslo provide a commentary moderated by Todd Wieneke. There are some notable silences on the track, but the two stars offer spirited recollections about working with Starrett in the Phillipines, and it's definitely worth a listen for those interested in low budget filmmaking. Also along for the ride are: an image gallery, a pair of radio spots and theatrical trailers for both this film and Werewolves on Wheels.
I love the smell of exhaust fumes in the morning. This film absolutely delivers the exploitation goods, with an absurd plot, gratuitous sex, political statements and all the wheel-spinning, explosion-filled violence you could ever want in a biker-slash-war flick.
Not guilty, soldier!
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Radio Spots
* Image Gallery